Early Childhood Special Education

For Ages 3 through 5

Early Childhood Special Education addresses individual needs within the context of developmentally appropriate early learning experiences including early literacy, math, play, and social areas. Preschool special education is a state and federally mandated program for children ages three through five who are experiencing challenges in their learning and development and meet eligibility criteria for special education and related services.

Every school district provides special education services to young children. Over 13,000 children in Tennessee receive individualized special education services each year as a part of IDEA 619 Preschool.

  • Eligibility for children is determined by criteria that have been established by federal and state rules and regulations.
  • Eligible children are entitled to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.
  • Each child with a disability has an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. Parents, teachers, therapists, and school administrators make up the IEP team and collaborate to write the IEP. The IEP lists the individual goals for the child and the services the child receives.
  • A young child who is determined eligible for special education receives services in the least restrictive environment; children should be educated with non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate.  This may include a public school, Head Start, a community based child care setting, or the home as determined by the child's IEP team.

Special education is not a place but a system of services and supports for children with disabilities.


"Child Find" is the process of locating, identifying, and evaluating children with disabilities to ensure that they receive services to which they are entitled. Children who are suspected of having a disability can be referred for a possible evaluation at no cost to determine if they are eligible for special education services. Referrals of children with a suspected delay or disability can be made to your local education agency (school district). District contact information is available here.


Indicator 6: Preschool Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Indicator 7: Early Childhood Outcomes (ECO)

Indicator 12: Early Childhood (EC) Transition

TEIS Extended Services Option Overview

TEIS Extended Services Option Questions and Answers

Federal Policy

 For information about services for children ages birth through two, contact Tennessee’s Early Intervention System.


IDEA Early Childhood Special Education Programming:

Director of Early Childhood Special Education

Shelby Ritter

(615) 259-0948



IDEA Early Childhood Indicator Support – Annual Performance Report (APR)

Director of IDEA APR Support Program

Heather Anderson

(615) 804-0299



West Tennessee IDEA APR Support Consultant

Heather Anderson

(615) 804-0299



Middle Tennessee IDEA APR Support Consultant

Dolly Gerregano

(615) 761-6670



East Tennessee IDEA APR Support Consultant

Colleen Van Dyke

(865) 210-6748



APR Support Team Divisional Map